There are 5 main "official" systems for taking notes in longhand:
- Cornell (easy)
- Outline (good, if the instructor doesn't go too fast)
- Mapping (tricky till you get the hang of it)
- Charting (only useful for certain situations)
- Sentence or List (easiest but also least useful, requires rewriting later)
This sounds complicated, but you will find yourself using at least one of these, and possibly 2-3 in different situations. Once you read the descriptions below, you may discover that you are already familiar with at least one!
|Cornell||divides page into sections
take freeform notes in the main and later add reminders of the key points in the left and a summary at the bottom;
very flexible and does not require notes to be rewritten later
|Outlining||create an indented outline
main topics are indented least, shows how points are related;
requires some thought during the lecture
|Mapping||a.k.a. mind maps, creates a graphical representation of the content
shows how points relates to everything else;
doesn't work for everyone
|Charting or tables||uses columns and tables to record information;
great for heavy fact-based classes like certain history classes
|Sentence or List||Write every piece of new info on a separate line and number them;
doesn't show any relationship or group information together
How do they work?
- Divide each page into 2 columns and 1 vertical space, leaving approx a 2" margin on the left and a small horizontal area on the bottom
- Use the main part of the page to make freeform notes (however you want)
- After the class, write "cues" on the left to remind you of the main details and a short summary of the lecture in the space at the bottom of the page
Best for - any type of class
- Start each new topic/main point on a new line
- Each more specific piece of information relating to that topic is indented a bit more
- Use the same amount of indenting for related information; this means the most important facts are indented least, and related facts are grouped together to make it easy to see correlations
- You can also underline/highlight key points
Best for - organized lectures presented in an outline format
- Write the title/key point of the lecture in the center of the page
- For each point, write it down and link it using lines, colors or numbers
- You should end up with the major "headings" as the first points out from the center, then sub-headings a little farther out, and so on
Best for - organized classes which are heavy on content
- Before the class starts, determine the categories of information you will need,
e.g. for a history class: year, type of event, who was involved, key factors, significance
- Mark your paper into columns or a table using those categories as headings
- Each time your instructor mentions another fact, note it down
- Fill in any blanks after class
Best for - classes heavy on straight factual content that is presented quickly
Sentence or List
- Write every new piece of information on a new line
- Number each sentence as you progress
Best for - quickly getting down information, people who will rewrite and organize notes later
Now you've had a chance to read the details, think about your preferred style.
Do you like to rewrite and organize your notes later? Sentence-style might be for you.
Do you want to take notes and leave them as-is? Try the Cornell method.
We've gathered some of the most common advantages and disadvantages of the different types of note-taking for you. Read the list, and think about your current note-taking style. Would one of these suit you better? Or is there something you can change about your own notes? Maybe you can turn one of the disadvantages into an advantage.
|Typing (PDA, laptop, or
As you can see, there are many points to consider.
If you can type quickly, and have the self-discipline to concentrate on the class rather than messaging friends, taking a laptop or PDA may be the way to go. If you learn better by listening and repetition, recording each class may work better. Other people find that writing things down is the only way they learn.
There's no "right" or "wrong" way - only what's right for you.
When making notes, the last thing you want to do is write out everything word-for-word. You don't even want to write out every word—you should already leave out short words like the, a, and, but.
To speed up your note-taking even more, use abbreviations. You should come up with some of your own (they will vary from class to class), but here are some common abbreviations and well-known symbols/shorthand which will help you get started. Some will already be familiar to you. You're allowed to suspend grammatical English while taking notes—just remember it when writing your papers!
- b/c - because
- c - circa, around (from the Latin circa)
- cf - compare (from the Latin confer)
- ch - chapter
- eg - example (from the Latin exempli gratia)
- esp - especially
- etc - and so on (from the Latin et cetera)
- govt - government
- ibid - in the same place (from the Latin ibidem)
- ie - that is (from the Latin id est)
- max - maximum
- min - minimum
- no - number
- nos - numbers
- p - page
- pp - pages
- re - regarding
- ref - reference
- vs - against, compared to (from the Latin versus)
- w/ - with
- w/o - without
- yr - year
- → - leads to, produces, causes
- & - and
- ? - question, check this, unsure
- ~ - approximately
- $ - money, cost, price
- > - greater than
- < - less than
- ± - give or take
- # - number
Here are some suggestions for how it can help you:
- Record each lecture on digital recorder, and then listen to it again later in MP3 format (or burn to a CD)
- Type an outline as you do the reading (or download lecture notes which are available online), and fill it in during class
- If you can't type well, handwrite notes and type them up later—this improves your knowledge retention and typing skills
- Take paper to class anyway—you might need to quickly sketch a diagram
- Use wireless internet to look up information you don't understand (but resist the temptation to check Facebook at the same time!)
- Use a flash drive to download slides/Powerpoint presentations provided by the instructor before you leave the class
- Don't try to organize your notes as you go—save that for after the class
- Use a Wiki to create outlines, fill them in - and it will make links to other classes/articles for you
- Make use of online resources like Wikipedia (an online encyclopedia), Encyclopedia Britannica and Project Gutenberg (free books out of copyright, both fiction and non-fiction) - these are all good starting places for further research
Laptops don't have to cost a fortune. It's possible to get a fully-functional laptop which is ideal for writing papers and doing research for under $600. Consult the AskIT staff for specific recommendations to suit your needs.
Why should I review my notes?
If you want to remember what you've just heard, the best way to make those memories stick is to review your notes.
Maybe you want to take longhand notes in class and type them up when you get back to your dorm. Maybe your professor mentioned some related reading, or some interesting points that you want to follow up.
Whatever your initial reason for doing this (or not doing it!) you should consider the following: Reviewing your notes makes it easier to remember the information.
If you remember it properly now, you will have less re-learning to do during the run-up to a test or your final exam. You forget 60% of new material within 24 hours, unless you reinforce the memory, so 30 minutes a day spent reviewing your notes actually saves you time and effort later.
What should I do when reviewing my notes?
- Double-check facts and spelling
- Fill in any gaps you left in class, using the textbook
- Expand on any abbreviations that might not be clear later
- Make a list of concepts or vocabulary you're not sure about
- look them up
- or ask your professor for clarification
When should I review them?
Ideally, right after class. (Of course, you did the required reading before the class, so it's just a question of checking your information.) If you have another class immediately after, make sure you get it done within 24 hours. This is when your memories are still fresh and you can supplement your class notes with anything you heard but forgot to write down at the time.
Sometimes you'll want to review your notes again. If something comes up during one class and you think, "This sounds familiar" then take that opportunity to look back over your notes and cross-reference them. This proves invaluable when revision time comes around!
How often should I review my notes?
"Do I have to do all this every week?" No, not every week. But it helps if you review your notes after every class. Get into the habit of re-reading or re-working your notes, and you'll find it becomes easier.